Coping with the Side Effects of Bile Duct Cancer Treatment


Battling bile duct cancer treatment can be as bad, if not worse, than the cancer itself.  Unfortunately, an aggressive disease such as bile duct cancer requires a strong treatment plan and can take a toll on anyone experiencing it.

Today we will look at some of the most common bile duct cancer treatment side effects so that if you or someone you love is battling bile duct cancer, you can begin to understand which side effects may trigger during treatment.


Bile Duct Cancer Treatment Side Effects

It is important to note that cancer treatments in general will affect patients differently.  Depending on your specific treatment plan, the type of cancer you have, the severity of the disease, and your physician’s involvement in your overall health, you may or may not experience any of the following side effects.


Nausea and Vomiting

Many bile duct cancer treatments cause nausea and vomiting in patients.  Typically, you experience nausea, or the feeling that you might throw up, as your next treatment nears.  On the other hand, vomiting usually occurs for up to two or more days afterward.

Nausea and vomiting are normally a result of radiation and chemotherapy cancer treatments.  They can also be caused by certain infections related to the cancer or treatment, an electrolyte imbalance that is sometimes caused by vomiting, and any gastrointestinal blockage.

Although nausea is uncomfortable, it poses no real health threat.  Vomiting, however, can cause dehydration, weight loss, and depression.  In severe cases, vomiting is so bad that some cancer patients will end their treatment to stop the vomiting, even if against their bile duct cancer surgeon’s recommendation.

Here are some proactive steps you can take if you are suffering from nausea and vomiting during treatment:

  • Distraction
  • Relaxation
  • Positive imagery
  • Acupuncture
  • Herbal medicines, such as ginger



Cancer-related fatigue causes you feel physically, emotionally, and mentally drained at all times.  This exhaustion can result from the disease itself, though it is normally associated with bile duct cancer treatment.


There is a difference between feeling tired and having cancer-related fatigue.  Here are some common symptoms that should alarm you if you are undergoing cancer treatment:

  • Your usual daily functioning is hindered due to fatigue.
  • Your level of daily activity does not correlate to the exhaustion you feel.
  • Your fatigue worsens despite getting adequate rest.

If you feel you are exhausted from your cancer treatment, talk to your Baltimore bile duct cancer surgeon.  Although it is not unusual for cancer patients to complain of fatigue for long periods of time even after treatment has completed, your quality of life is important.

Your Baltimore physician will likely recommend the following to manage your cancer-related fatigue:

  • Management of pain, depression, anxiety, and stress through various medications
  • Following a strict sleep schedule and sticking to it
  • Eating and drinking a healthy diet so you meet your daily nutritional needs
  • Treatment of anemia, another common cancer treatment side effect that can also cause fatigue


Dry Mouth

Also known in the medical world as xerostomia, dry mouth is a common cancer treatment side effect.  This side effect occurs because your cancer treatment is not allowing your salivary glands to make enough saliva to keep your mouth moist.

Here are some common symptoms of dry mouth your bile duct cancer treatment may be causing:

  • A sticky, dry feeling in your mouth
  • Thick, stringy saliva that will not go away
  • A painful or burning sensation in your mouth or on your tongue
  • Cracked or dry lips that chapstick will not heal
  • A dry, rough tongue that associates with difficulty chewing, tasting, or swallowing
  • Difficulty talking due to the lack of saliva

If you are suffering from dry mouth because of your bile duct cancer treatment, consider these options to help relieve it:

  • Medication that lessens dry mouth as a side effect
  • Saliva substitutes and mouth rinses to increase saliva production
  • Sucking on candies or chewing gum regularly to stimulate saliva production
  • Following good dental hygiene including regular brushing and flossing

It is important that you talk to your Baltimore bile duct cancer surgeon if you experience severe dry mouth.  Without enough saliva, the bacteria in your mouth will begin to grow rapidly causing sores, infections, and tooth decay.



Anemia is an abnormally low level of red blood cells.  This is because your body is either not making enough blood, is losing blood, or red blood cells have been destroyed by the cancer treatment.  Anemia is most common in patients receiving chemotherapy.


Red blood cells are responsible for carrying hemoglobin full of oxygen to all parts of your body.  If your body does not receive enough oxygen via the red blood cells, it cannot function properly.  Feelings of fatigue often set in for those with low red blood cell counts, which can lead to a whole host of additional issues:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Problems staying warm
  • Bleeding problems

If your anemia is severe enough, you may require a blood transfusion to increase your body’s red blood cell counts.  However, there are other coping methods such as medications and nutritional supplements to help relieve you of this side effect before it gets to that extreme.

Usually when chemotherapy treatment is completed your red blood cell counts increase and return to normal.  However, it is crucial to monitor your red blood cell counts with your bile duct cancer physician to ensure your health, even after treatment is over.



This side effect is a buildup of fluid in your soft tissue due to a blockage in the lymph system.  Your lymphatic system is important because it helps your body fight infections of all kinds.  You need a strong lymphatic system if diagnosed with bile duct cancer and especially during treatment.

Lymphedema typically affects your arms and legs thanks in large part to gravity.  In addition, it is most commonly found in those receiving radiation therapy to battle their bile duct cancer.  In fact, lymphedema has been known to become a long-term side effect of those who once received cancer treatment meaning the side effect lasts long after treatment has completed.

There are many things you can do to address lymphedema during your cancer treatment:

  • Manually drain the lymph fluid into the bloodstream using a special massage technique.
  • Exercise to increase the flow of the built up fluid.
  • Compress the affected areas to prevent swelling.
  • Practice extra care when dealing with the external skin to prevent chapping and infection.
  • Elevate the affected areas to drain the fluid and encourage a healthy flow of lymph fluid.
  • Ask your bile duct cancer physician for medication to relieve pain when necessary.
  • Attend physical therapy to lessen pain and swelling using specialized exercises.

In the end, there are many more bile duct cancer treatment side effects you may experience while undergoing cancer treatment.  The important thing, however, is to manage these side effects properly with your specialized bile duct cancer physician so that you can maintain the best quality of life possible during treatment.

If you or someone you know has recently been diagnosed with bile duct cancer and are ready to undergo treatment to fight it, consider contacting Dr. Fraiman to be your bile duct cancer physician.  With years of experience treating rare cancers such as bile duct cancer and a dedication to providing his patients individualized care, Dr. Fraiman will be able to help you manage them.